Friday, May 7, 2010

‘Cents-less’ Pennies

The common penny albeit almost an irritant today found its origins in Britain around 800 AD when it was first minted in silver. I kind of wish I had a few of those around the house rather than the thousands of hybrid zinc and copper dudes in my jar today. Yes It has been a long road for the penny since Ben Franklin’s large cent ‘Coppers’ of 1793. Until just recently, for my entire life I have grown up with the ‘Lincoln Memorial’ on the reverse of the penny, though the Wheat, Indian Head, and Flying cents were just as popular in their respective eras.

The modern penny’s composition has varied between bronze, brass, to the least expensive copper plated zinc of today. The primary reason this is of interest to me is that I used to do a lot of metal detecting. Pre-1982 pennies will last nearly in perpetuity in acidic soils, whereas after 1982, 97% zinc pennies will begin to corrode away in as little as 10 to 15 years. Further, pre-1982 pennies are valued by elongated penny collectors because when squished, the penny remains entirely brass colored without the silvery zinc interior showing through a post-1982 penny.

But what bothers me most now, is in the last two years, the U.S. Mint has released 4 Lincoln Bicentennial reverse designs in addition to the Union Shield reverse - the 2010 new standard. So think of it, since the advent of the ‘small cent’ in 1856 there have only been 4 reverse designs TOTAL until very recently. In a mere two years, the government has more than DOUBLED the penny’s backside designs floating around out there for me my fellow metal detector fans. I don’t know about your ‘backside’, but I think Lincoln’s has served him pretty reliably for the last half century.

Don’t get me wrong, I basically think all the penny reverse designs are attractive. But there are so many now, I honestly am never sure if I am paying with a Canadian penny, a counterfeit U.S. penny, or a brass button? Once again, something I grew up with which required absolutely no thinking has now become a complex agitation to my tiny brain. Hmmm, Maybe if I keep ‘putting down’ all of these pretty penny designs, life will finally ‘knock some CENTS into me’! What do you know? I guess it IS true that every cloud has a ZINC lining.

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